There is great news on tuberculosis, but action is still needed

By Phyllis AlRoy

The world’s deadliest infectious killer disease finally had its day. On Sept. 26, 2018, world leaders pledged to reach 40 million people with tuberculosis treatment at the United Nations’ first high-level meeting on tuberculosis.

The final political signed declaration includes a pledge to reach 40 million people with treatment by 2022; double the investment in prevention and treatment; refocus the response on the needs of people directly affected by TB; and increase investment in critically needed research and development.

National leaders, including the presidents of South Africa and Nigeria, made announcements of their own, and the United States announced the “Global Accelerator to End Tuberculosis” which will focus on supporting locally generated solutions to help countries reach the 40 million goal.

The “Global Accelerator to End TB” announced by United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green is a powerful step forward, refocusing on solutions generated locally, making sure investments rely on the best evidence, tracking impact, and prioritizing those who have been left behind.  Supporting national governments and local partners to reach everyone, and providing the resources to make it possible, is essential to delivering on the promise of Sept. 26.

For far too long, TB has been cast to the bottom of the list of political priorities, despite being preventable, treatable and nearly always curable. It has climbed to the top of the list of infectious killers, taking 1.7 million lives each year.

One of our greatest failures on TB is the failure to actually reach all the people who are sick with TB. Every year health systems leave behind 3.6 million of the estimated 10 million people who get sick with TB. And we know those 3.6 million are not random: whether isolated by geography, poverty or social stigma, it is the most vulnerable groups who are most likely to miss out.

The UN meeting alone guarantees nothing, but we know what is possible when the world unites behind shared goals and backs them up with the resources and policies to make it a reality. For its part, Congress must continue to build on the recent bipartisan momentum on tuberculosis. That means increasing funding to match the scale of ambition shown on  Sept. 26.

Congress can act yet this year. The House has proposed an investment of $302 million in TB efforts for 2019, the Senate only $275 million. Senators and representatives should get behind the higher House number to jump start concrete commitments and progress toward the ambitious 2022 TB goals.

The UN declaration and all the announcements made at the UN have the potential to change the trajectory of TB, which will reduce mass suffering and spur economic growth in poorer nations, but the most important measure of success is carefully following up on our commitments. Then we can truly celebrate.

Phyllis AlRoy of Ewing Township is a RESULTS group leader. RESULTS is a citizens advocacy group working to end hunger and poverty.